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IAmRUSA Interviewee for the Week of January 6th is
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Hello! I’m a member of RUSA STARS who has worked as both a reference librarian and an interlibrary loan librarian - or library and information resource sharing specialist - for over 20 years. I’m happy to join you for this week’s IAmRUSA discussion…I always enjoy hearing about what other librarians do, and this week I’m looking forward to answering some questions about what it is that I do!
But, first, my librarian origin story…I’ve always loved libraries and reading, researching questions and finding answers, yet I somehow never considered being a librarian. Instead, I made a practical choice to study human resources management in college, reasoning that this would be a good way to find a job at a variety of interesting/fun cultural/educational institutions. Then, when I got my first job at the New York Public Library, I immediately realized that I wanted to be a librarian, not hire them. I stayed in HR for about a year – so as not to appear completely unserious by changing careers overnight – and then I became a Librarian Trainee at NYPL, which gave me a chance to learn about all aspects of public library work.
At Columbia University, during library school, I had several great internship experiences. Their main library had a legendary reference collection and a busy reference desk and it was there that I decided to become an academic reference librarian. I enjoyed the work, the people, and I thought that living in a college town would be great. (You might not call NYC a college town, with CUNY, NYU and Columbia, to mention just a few, it kind of is!) A few years later I got my second masters degree in Anthropology, choosing it because it is a multidisciplinary subject.
Since graduating, I’ve done both reference and ILL work at every job I’ve had. In today’s job market, I think it’s important both to have a specialty and to be open to doing whatever needs to be done once you get a job. While specializing in ILL was not a conscious choice, it has turned out to make for a great career. Library resource sharing remains one of the best ways to help people access much of the world of information. Every borrowing and lending transaction helps people with their information needs. ILL specialists get to work closely with colleagues in other libraries nearby and around the world. We use innovative technology to provide quick and efficient service. We are problem solvers, who can do reference, catalog fixes, collection development, acquisitions and who need to understand copyright law and licensing terms, digitization, preservation…really, all aspects of library work.
I’m also active in professional library organizations like the Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative and the IDS Project. I present at conferences; something that remains intimidating, but that’s getting progressively more enjoyable! I also write about best practices and the future of information sharing in a world of licensed digital information, as well as about the traditional and evolving image(s) of librarians. And, I’ve even taught at a library school in China while on sabbatical. (Sabbaticals are another great possibility for academic librarians with faculty status and tenure.) While not working, I enjoy hiking and yoga, foodie pursuits (i.e. eating!), relaxing with my husband, doing art projects or whatever is currently inspiring our nieces and nephews with them, reading…and my goal for 2014 is to do more of all of this!
So, please post here if you’re considering ILL work, or if you’ve never considered it and want to know more about it, or if you have any questions about academic reference work. What do you think about specializing as a librarian or library school student…or, about reference or ILL work at academic versus public libraries? How do you see library work and the image of librarians evolving? Let’s discuss!
First of all, thanks so much for taking part in IAmRUSA - as I've gone through each of the interviews I've found out a lot of really interesting stuff.
My question for you is ILL related - personally I've gone to library school twice - once at a college level to become a library technician, and I am currently working towards my MLIS part-time. In all that time however, I've never come across a course that focused specifically on ILL - it's been a topic that comes up in a number of classes, but in terms of the actual process, I had to learn on-the-job. Was this similar to your experience, or was ILL a focus during your time at school? If not, do you think it should be the topic of a course?
This is so true! ILL is not/has not been taught in library schools, even though it has a history and values and philosophy and uses cutting edge technology and is essential to the core of what all libraries do to connect people and information. Instead, ILL specialists learn on the job. This is certainly why many librarians do not consider ILL as a specialty, until/unless they get to do it themselves. Certainly part of this is understandable because the policies, procedures, best practices and technologies we need to know are constantly evolving> But these days this is the case in all areas of library science. It would be great to see a class on something like "Information Sharing" that would include ILL and acquisitions and OA and digitization and copyright and license terms and everything libraries do to facilitate access to information!
It's true, most library schools don't offer a particular course in ILL or Resource Sharing. Libraries themselves have been slow to realize they need to devote a professional level position to resource sharing. But back to library school curriculum, why isn't this a course? It isn't that the topic isn't highly important, it is. And there is nothing more passionate than a resource sharing librarian!
My guess is that in my library school program, we would have a hard time mustering enough students to sign up in order to run the class. Students must take 6 required classes, and then they have only 7 other courses they can choose. It many programs, it's fewer. Few students see themselves in the role of resource sharing, again making it hard to entice them to take the course. That library function isn't as visible, so students under-appreciate it. It is also hard to convince them to take the instruction class which they most definitely need for academic public service as well as some other good classes.
On the other hand, our required Collections course includes resource sharing, consortia, acquisitions, open access, and a host of other topics. We offer a copyright course which includes interlibrary loan. Our Management of Electronic Resources class covers licensing in depth. About the only part of ILL the curriculum doesn't cover is hands on activity with different ILL systems and procedural issues. True, that requires on the job training. But what a great webinar idea for RUSA to compliment library curricula? In fact, I may yank our fabulous ILL librarian into service for my Collections course beginning in two weeks!
Chris LeBeau Assistant Teaching Professor University of Missouri School of Information Science & Learning Technologies & Business Librarian UMKC